Mara Kaye sings dangerous blues. You know the kind, where the protagonist says she’s going to cut those who disobey, and you know it doesn’t mean trim their uneven bangs. I do not doubt Mara’s ferocities, but since this is a video, you can watch without fear.
The wonderful noises and story-telling below took place a little more than a year ago, at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, where I spent six months of happy evenings between September 2019 and March 2020.
On February 6, Mara was joined by friends and musical family Tim McNalley, guitar; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Brian Nalepka, string bass. And she sang a bucolic little folk ditty about some of our favorite subjects:
I think that particular manifestation of OKeh Records ceased to be around 1935, although there have been later echoes. But the jazz and blues grapevine tells me that Mara and another hero, Carl Sonny Leyland, have been recording for BigTone Records and that the results will be issued sooner than later. Ain’t that good news?
Here are a few more minutes of the blues with a very clear subtext — transportation can be fun even if you scrape the curb! — performed at Cafe Bohemia what seems like centuries ago but is really only fourteen months, if my math holds. The elated perpetrators are Mara Kaye, vocal; Tim McNalley, guitar; Albanie Falletta, resonator guitar; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Brian Nalepka, string bass. The Department of Motor Vehicles informs me that all five of them passed their driving tests easily, the first time. Experts.
Yes, this beautiful automobile, a 1941 Ford V-8, is particularly relevant to what follows.
Just be sure to use all your mirrors and go slowly when maneuvering into tight spaces. More to come, as we say.
Mara Kaye, holding the bright light of her voice and her passions, shines out at us — with the wise emotional assistance of Arnt Arntzen, guitar; Jared Engel, string bass; Evan Arntzen, tenor saxophone; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet. All of this revelation took place at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, New York City, last year, November 19, 2019. Ages ago, but we live in hope that it can and will return:
I hope we’re all living the best we can, although it is our privilege and burden to make up our own lyrics and our own tempo.
The place where it all happened, and we are hopeful these joys will come again. Thanks to Mike Zielenewski, Christine Santelli, and Matthew “Fat Cat” Rivera, blues and jazz had a cozy nest here.
These days, I find myself moaning and growling more than usual, and I think I am not unique. So here is moral musical empathic support.
The blues — Victoria Spivey’s DETROIT MOAN — in living color, rendered with great conviction by Mara Kaye; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet and mutabilities; Evan Arntzen, tenor saxophone; Arnt Arntzen, guitar; Jared Engel, string bass — at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street in Greenwich Village, New York City, on October 24, 2019.
I hope you don’t find Mara’s line “I can’t eat beans no more,” that culinary lamentation, too personally relevant.
And if you are not Facebook-averse or -phobic, visit Mara’s site: she and guitarist Tim “Snack” McNalley have been holding at-home-West-Coast-Saturday-recitals that I know you will enjoy. A sample, here.
When I first met Mara Kaye, on the other side of the continent, about six years ago, she was a fervent advocate of “other people’s blues,” often the chansons of Victoria Spivey, Ida Cox, and Memphis Minnie. Happily she continues to perform these songs, but she’s also added wonderful swing classics to her repertoire, many harking back to the Billie Holiday recordings of the Thirties and early Forties.
Here’s one, quite famous, that she renders with swing, joy, and conviction — accompanied by a splendid group of improvising stars: Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Arnt Arntzen, guitar; Jared Engel, string bass.
All of this happened at the end of a Cafe Bohemia Jazz Quartet gig — at the downtown home of happy sounds, 15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York City. And I felt Irving, Fred, Ginger, Ella, and Louis looking on approvingly.
That music is good news to me. But the good news continues: tomorrow, Thursday, February 6, Mara will be returning to Cafe Bohemia, starting at 8 PM, joined by Jon-Erik Kellso, Brian Nalepka, string bass, and Tim McNalley, guitar, although so far it seems that the stairs are too narrow to allow Mara to bring that lovely bathtub.
Those who understand pleasure and enlightenment can buy tickets here.
Before there was this — the official opening of Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, New York City, one flight down — on October 17, 2019:
there was this, a warm-up for the club, a “soft opening” on September 26:
Glorious music from Mara Kaye, singing with the Cafe Bohemia Jazz Band — totally acoustic — Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Brian Nalepka, string bass. I posted other performances from that evening, here — but here are seven more beauties for your consideration, mixing blues by Memphis Minnie, the Smith ladies, and of course Lady Day.
Mara, of course, is herself, which is a damned good thing.
I GOT TO MAKE A CHANGE:
WANTS CAKE WHEN I’M HUNGRY:
YOUR MOTHER’S SON-IN-LAW:
A SAILBOAT IN THE MOONLIGHT:
Now, even more good news. Cafe Bohemia is perking along beautifully — on November 21, I was there for a wonderful quartet session by Danny Tobias, Dan Block, Josh Dunn (new to me and a wonder), and Tal Ronen. “Beyond the beyonds!” as a character in a Sean O’Faolain story says. And on the 22nd, I heard and admired Ricky Alexander, Adam Moezinia, Daniel Duke, and Chris Gelb, with a glorious appearance by Dan Block for two numbers. All night, every Monday, my dear young hero Matt “Fat Cat” Rivera, who knows things but is not compelled to flatten people with facts, spins wondrous 78 rpm discs of the real stuff, and he reappears before and after sets on Thursdays. The HOT CLUB, you know.
And on December 5, our Mara will be celebrating her birthday at Cafe Bohemia, so if you weren’t there for the prequel, you can make up for it in the near future.
It will be a birthday party where Mara and friends give us presents, you know.
Here is the Cafe’s Facebook page, and here is their website.
The people spoke, “Can you post more from that October 17 session at Cafe Bohemia?” And I said, “Yes, I can.”
The sounds come from here (on the map, it’s 15 Barrow Street, New York City):
Good sounds, created by Evan Arntzen, tenor, Felix Lemerle, guitar, Andrew Millar, drums; Alex Claffy, string bass:
There are more beautiful notes to come from sessions at Cafe Bohemia, including one last night with Jon-Erik Kellso, Evan and Arnt Arntzen, Jared Engel, and a surprise visit from Mara Kaye. And more after that!
New York City is full of vanished landmarks: one checks the address of what was once a place both sacred and thriving only to find that it is now a nail salon or, even more common, that its facade no longer exists: it’s now luxury apartments or university offices. But resurrection, however rare, is possible and delightful. The “new” CAFE BOHEMIA, thanks to the labors and vision of Mike Zieleniewski and Christine Santelli, is one of those urban(e) miracles.
There will be divine music there on Thursday, October 24, featuring Jon-Erik Kellso, Evan Arntzen, Arnt Arntzen, and Jared Engel as well as the Hot Club. Tickets here for the 7:00 show; here for the 9:30 show. And for those who “don’t do Facebook,” tickets can be purchased through Eventbrite.
Now . . . .
and another view:
LIVE MUSIC for sure. And there’s also Fat Cat Matt Rivera’s HOT CLUB, which I’ve written about here.
But let’s go back to some of that LIVE MUSIC, performed on September 26, before the Club’s official opening — a delightful all-acoustic jazz and blues evening featuring Mara Kaye, vocal; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Brian Nalepka, string bass. Incidentally, only people who regularly attend live-music events know how rare “all-acoustic” is, and how pleasing.
BLACK SHEEP BLUES:
For Billie, I WISHED ON THE MOON:
Also for Lady Day, NO REGRETS:
“How sad I am,” with a grin, for MY MAN:
I’ll have more music from this night, also from October 17 (Evan, Andrew Millar, Felix Lemerle, Alex Claffy) but I urge you to tear yourselves away from those electronic devices and visit the Cafe on the 24th. It’s tactless to remind people but necessary that clubs, concerts, and festivals need actual human attendees (what a thought!) to survive. So . . . see you there!
You might be walking along Barrow Street, on the Bleecker Street side of Seventh Avenue South (all this conjecture is taking place in Greenwich Village, New York City, New York, the United States); you could look up and see this sign.
You might just think, “Oh, another place to have an ale and perhaps a burger,” and you’d be correct, but in the most limited way.
Surprises await the curious, because down the stairs is the sacred ground where the jazz club Cafe Bohemia existed in the Fifties, where Miles, Lester, Ben, Coltrane, Cannonball, Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, and Pettiford played and live sessions were recorded.
Here’s the room as it is now. Notice the vertical sign?
This isn’t one of those Sic Transit Gloria Mundi posts lamenting the lost jazz shrines (and certainly there is reason enough to write such things) BECAUSE . . .
On Thursday, October 17, yes, this week, the new Cafe Bohemia will open officially. This is important news to me and I hope to you. So let me make it even more emphatic.
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 17, THE NEW CAFE BOHEMIA OPENS.
That is as emphatic as WordPress permits. I was there on September 26, for the club’s trial run (more about that below) and I was delighted to find very friendly staff, good food and drink, pleasing sight lines and a receptive crowd, so it was a nostalgic return to a place I’d never been.
But back to current events. On this coming Thursday, there will be two shows, an early show at 6:45 and a late one at 9:30. These shows will be, as they say in retail, “value-packed”! Each show will feature wonderfully entertaining and enlightening record-spinning of an exalted kind by Fat Cat Matthew Rivera, bringing his Hot Club to the Village on a regular basis, AND live jazz from the Evan Arntzen Quartet including guitarist Felix Lemerle, string bassist Alex Claffy, and drummer Andrew Millar. Although the Bohemia hasn’t yet posted its regular schedule, their concept is both ambitious and comforting: seven nights of live jazz and blues music of the best kind.
Buy tickets here for the early show, here for the late one. It’s a small room, so be prepared. (I am, and I’ll be there.) And here is the Eventbrite link for those “who don’t do Facebook.”
If you follow JAZZ LIVES, or for that matter, if you follow lyrical swinging jazz, I don’t have to introduce Evan Arntzen to you. And if, by some chance, his name is oddly new to you, come down anyway: you will be uplifted. I guarantee it.
But who is Matthew Rivera?
I first met Matt Rivera (to give him his full handle, “Fat Cat Matthew Rivera,” which he can explain to you if you like) as a disembodied voice coming through my speakers as he was broadcasting on WKCR-FM a particularly precious musical reality — the full spectrum of jazz from before 1917 up to the middle Fifties, as captured on 78 RPM disks.
It isn’t a dusty trek into antiquity: Matt plays Miles and Bird, Gene Ammons and Fats Navarro next to “older styles.” Here’s Matt in a characteristically devout pose, at Cafe Bohemia:
and the recording (you’ll hear it on this post) that is the Hot Club’s theme song:
About two weeks ago, I visited the Fat Cat in his Cafe Bohemia lair and we chatted for JAZZ LIVES. YouTube decided to edit my long video in the middle of a record Matt was spinning, but I created a video of the whole disk later. Here’s the nicely detailed friendly first part:
and the second part:
and some samples of the real thing. First, the complete WHO?
DEXTERITY, with Bird, Miles, and Max:
and finally, a Kansas City gem featuring tenor player Dick Wilson and Mary Lou Williams and guitarist Floyd Smith:
Cafe Bohemia isn’t just a record-spinning listening party site, although the Fat Cat will have a regular Hot Club on Monday nights. Oh, no. When I attended the club’s trial run on September 26, there was live jazz — a goodly helping — of the best, with Mara Kaye singing (acoustically) blues and Billie with the joyous accompaniment of that night’s Cafe Bohemia Jazz Band: Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Brian Nalepka, string bass. Here’s their opening number, ST. LOUIS BLUES:
The first word Mara utters on that video is “Wow,” and I echo those sentiments. Immense thanks are due owner Mike Zieleniewski and the splendid Christine Santelli as well as the musicians and staff.
See you downstairs at Cafe Bohemia on Thursday night: come over and say hello as we welcome this birth and rebirth to New York City.
Some artists are too big to fit into one designated category or title: drummer George Wettling is one of them, even though his name is left out of many histories of the music, and when he is mentioned, it is as a “Dixieland” musician or one of “Eddie Condon’s barefoot mob,” both designations either condescending or arcane at this remove. He was one of those players whose energies went to the band, so I think he was often taken for granted — but replace Wettling in any situation with a lesser drummer, and the change is immediately not only heard but felt. I proudly say that I was listening to Wettling on records in my childhood, and continue to do so with pleasure. Consider this one. I know it’s difficult to put Jack Teagarden, Coleman Hawkins, and Joe Thomas to one side, but listen to Wettling’s drumming: intuitive, thoughtful, joyous, propulsive without being narcissistic:
Here is a post I created ten years ago, with more evidence of Wettling’s flexible, uplifting playing. And here‘s another — with more video and audio. Wettling was quite the painter — a student and disciple of Stuart Davis — as explained here, beautifully, by Hank O’Neal, in 2017.
But the occasion for this post is something new and wonderful — a living lesson in what Wettling DID, offered to us by the wonderful musician (and dear friend) Kevin Dorn, whose bright light is always visible in the night sky:
I had the immense good fortune of hearing Kevin swing out last night with a stellar band led by Evan Arntzen at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola (Evan, Kevin, Jon-Erik Kellso, Mara Kaye, Harvey Tibbs, Rossano Sportiello, Adam Brisbin, Tal Ronen) and in the best Wettling tradition, he sounded like himself without having to try hard to do so.
Mara Kaye is one of New York’s great gifts to the world. Two years ago, she did a concert performance at Joe’s Pub, an evening of songs associated with Billie Holiday. Here is some of what I wrote, that still rings true.
She is a substantial stage personality. One way this is expressed is in her nearly constant yet genuine motion, as if her energy is too strong for her to stand still. It’s not just hair-tossing, but a continual series of dance moves that also look like yoga poses and warm-up stretches, even a jubilant marching-in-place. Often she held her arms over her head, her hands open. I think it was always exuberant emotion, but it was also her own expression of an ancient and honorable theatrical style . . . so that even the people in the most distant balcony of the Apollo Theatre could see you and join in with the person onstage. And her voice matched her larger-than-life physical presence. On a Twenties record label, she might have been billed as COMEDIENNE WITH ORCHESTRA, and that odd designation rang true. The comedy bubbled up here and there in speech: she hails from Brooklyn, so that her sailboat in the moonlight was idling along in Sheepshead Bay. But it also emerged delightfully in her voice: I heard echoes of Fanny Brice, of comic Eastern European melodies . . . it never sounded as if she was taking Billie or the music lightly, but as if she was having such a good time that she couldn’t help playing. . . . SHOW in the best tradition — not caricature, but something Louis would have admired immensely.
I’m always glad to see Mara, and when she showed up at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho) on Sunday, August 13, I had hopes she would be invited to sit in with the EarRegulars. Leader and brass deity Jon-Erik Kellso has the same feelings about this young woman, so he invited her to join the band . . . and these two performances are the result. The EarRegulars, that night, were Jon-Erik; David Sager, trombone (making a guest appearance from his home in a southern town), John Gill, banjo; Brian Nalepka, string bass, with sitters-in Scott Ricketts, cornet and Eyal Vilner, to my left, alto saxophone. The ghosts of Buck Clayton, Lester Young, and Benny Morton were there, and they approved.
Two gorgeous performances: FOOLIN’ MYSELF:
and I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE (during the instrumental portion you’ll see Mara, ever the good jazz citizen, walking around with the tip jar — the tip pumpkin — to help the band:
Music like this, peerless and delicate, improves our world, for these musicians give us love and more.